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Balkan Youth Look to the Future

Admiral Foggo addresses Albanian students.    Photo by FRA Navy Chief Petty Officer Sebastien Laurent

Future leaders of Albania and the the Regional Youth Cooperation Office joined me at the U.S. Embassy, Tirana, Albania. I was impressed. These young women and men have already made an impact. The audience included student leaders and youth activists from across Albania. Many of the participants were actively involved in regional cooperation initiatives and "Model NATO" programs.

I also had the chance to meet with Kreshnik Loka, the Tirana branch officer for the Regional Youth Cooperation Office. With offices across the Western Balkans - in Belgrade, Pristina, Skopje, Sarajevo, Podgorica and Tirana - the RYCO is fostering the spirit of reconciliation, trust, cooperation and dialogue across the region. It draws inspiration from the tremendously successful Franco-German Youth Office that encouraged exchanges between young people of those two former adversaries, now inseparable Allies.

One story I shared with the group was about the life of Alexander Hamilton. I recently saw the hit Broadway musical Hamilton about the American founding father and Federalist Papers co-author who features on the $10 bill. One bright Albanian electrical engineer in the audience, Sidrit Avdia, knew all about him—and why? Sidrit heard a song from the Musical on social media and took it upon himself to find out more.

At age 30, Hamilton published the Federalist Papers in which he advocated for unity across what he called the multiplicity and diversity of interest across the United States. Those were tumultuous years. There were disagreements. There were differences. And yet, the young leaders of the newly independent America reconciled their differences and found common interests.

There are immediate parallels between Hamilton’s America and the Balkans of today. In the year 1776 the US fought a war with England, and did not have a constitution until 1787…11 years later. Many of Albania’s Balkan neighbors are also new countries, like Kosovo…the newest country in Europe, just celebrating ten years of independence in February. And they have a Constitution.

The enthusiasm, hope, and determination that I saw in the youth forum was inspiring. They are ready to rebuild their region. They respect and value their cultural heritage AND are looking to the future. These young leaders taught me about hope. I think we can all learn from their optimism. #StrongerTogether #WeAreNATO

Blog by Admiral James Foggo

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